A new season of “The Mandalorian” has premiered on DisneyPlus, and the first episode, “The Marshall,” wasn’t exactly the strongest way to kick things off. Yes, there are many intriguing nods to Star Wars’ rich and layered past in this episode, but at the end of the day, there just isn’t much new going on.
Chapter 9: “The Marshall.”
The story begins more interestingly than it ends, with Mando (Pedro Pascal) in a city slum on a planet in the Outer Rim. At a savage prizefight between two Gammoreans (the green pig people seen in “Return of the Jedi”), Mando makes contact with someone who is rumored to know the location of other Mandalorians, who might help him return ‘the Child’ (aka Baby Yoda) to his still nameless people.
Note: Here’s hoping we never learn the name of Yoda’s people. The Star Wars expanded universe, of late, has a maddening tendency to fill in every nook and cranny of its lived-in galaxy with too much backstory, leaving little for audience imagination. Leave Yoda’s race an unsolved enigma.
Meeting ringside with a surly cyclops named Gor Koresch (an unrecognizable John Leguizamo), Mando presses Koresch for more information, but is double-crossed when Koresch tries to barter for Mando’s Beskar armor. In short order, Mando dispatches all of Koresch’s hired guns and gets Koresch to squeal that there may be a Mandalorian living on Tatooine. Mando leaves the deceitful cyclops hanging upside down as a feast for some red-eyed carnivores in the back alleyway, keeping his promise to Koresch that “you won’t die by my hand.”
Note: The segment with Gor Koresch and the fighting Gammoreans was my favorite, as it felt like the only part of this story that offered something new for the Star Wars universe–a seedy prizefight in a back-alley of a city planet (like Planet Philly, circa 1949). That’s something I haven’t seen in Star Wars until now. Nearly everything that followed this opening sequence felt recycled from previous Mandalorian stories.
Arriving on Tatooine, Mando’s ship, the Razorcrest, attracts the attention of local Tusken Raiders (aka Sandpeople) atop their horned banthas. This would be cause for a Star Wars-gasm if we didn’t just visit Tatooine last season…
Landing in his old familiar docking bay at Mos Eisley spaceport (yes, the Mos Eisley where Han shot Greedo first, dammit), Mando once again meets with pit crew chief/ally Pelli Motto (Amy Sedaris) who coos at the Child, offering to care for its offspring if it ever divides. She loans Mando her old rusty speeder bike for transport into the tiny mining settlement of Mos Pelgo.
Mos Pelgo is a town so tiny that it is no longer on post-war maps of the region, due to its hush-hush acquisition by a local mining guild. Arriving in town, Mando walks into the local bar, inexplicably leaving the Child out by the speeder bike.
Note: The casual manner in which Mando regards the Child’s safety this year is a contrast to the ’trust no one’ protectiveness he showed last year. Did he suddenly forget that a lot of people were still actively looking for the Child?
At the bar, Mando asks the saloon keep if he’s seen anyone else dressed like himself. The barkeep tells him there is “the Marshall”, who is the local law and order. The bartender is a member of the same horn-jowled race known as the Weequay, seen before in animated Star Wars lore in the colorful character of Hondo Ohnaka (Jim Cummings), as well as a skiff guard in “Return of the Jedi.”
Note: I have to admit, I thought the episode was setting us up for a “Walking Dead”-style local despot situation (i.e. “the Governor,” “Negan,”), but it didn’t. This was perhaps the only genuine surprise for me in the entire story. Instead we have a local monster threatening the townsfolk. Essentially a repeat of what we’d seen in “The Child” and “Sanctuary” in season one. Not exactly a step-up, but at least one expectation of mine was quietly defied.
Mando meets “the Marshall”, aka Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant), and nearly kills him for the sacrilegious offense of wearing Mandalorian armor… armor which once belonged to famed bounty hunter Boba Fett (from the Star Wars movies). Once cooler heads prevail, they begin to talk; turns out Mos Pelgo was overrun after the Empire fell in “Return of the Jedi,” leaving it open to takeover by less-than-scrupulous miners. After their desertion, the town was open to raids by the local Tusken Raiders, aka the ‘sandpeople’ (with whom Mando has a rapport). Now an even worse fate has befallen this forgotten little town… a giant Krayt dragon has been punching its giant head up through the sand and picking off locals, chowing on both townsfolk and sandpeople alike…
Realizing they have a common enemy with the sandpeople in the Krayt dragon, Cobb offers to return his Jawa-acquired armor to Mando (free of violence) in exchange for his help in ridding both parties of this sand-dwelling menace. Mando, once again, agrees to rid anonymous locals of a dangerous monster. They scope the creature, and immediately realize it’s too great a challenge for two people–they will need help.
Note: Cobb’s speeder looks like it was salvaged from one of the podracers seen in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” The Krayt dragon has also been referenced in Star Wars before; it was the skeleton of such a creature that C3PO stumbles across in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” In the novelization of 1977’s Star Wars, it was the cry of the Krayt dragon was also the call that Obi Wan Kenobi used to scare off the sandpeople (though George Lucas has altered that cry several times in the various ‘Special Editions’ of the movie…now it just sounds like a drunken sailor).
Meeting with the Tuskens for their help, there are some initial misunderstandings and prejudices, but Mando acts as broker, and a deal is struck when Mando offers the town’s assistance as well.
Note: Some interesting things going on with the story’s deeper look into the sandpeople language and culture; even their grunts and cries seem to have a bit more logic and structure to them in this episode. Such clever details are the saving graces of an otherwise tired story. It might’ve made for an even more interesting turn if Mando were only helping Tuskens, and not a humanoid mining settlement. But then again, we’ve seen that as well, when Mando aided the Jawas (with Kuiil’s help) in “The Child.” With only nine episodes in, it’s too early for the series to become so self-referential.
The destruction of the Krayt dragon is the action centerpiece of the story, but it’s fairly by-the-numbers. The townies and Tuskens work together to lure the creature out of its home in an emptied Sarlaac Pit (the same sort of pit once used as a slow death sentence in “Return of the Jedi”) and over a hurriedly laid minefield filled with remote-controlled explosives. The plan doesn’t work, but Mando sees another way–using a bantha laden with the remaining explosive charges (spares) as bait, Mando will force the unwilling bantha into the Krayt dragon’s belly, as Cobb remote detonates the explosives.
Note: The Krayt dragon looks like a Dune sandworm with a large snout. This type of sand-dwelling monster has been seen so often in science-fiction (“Dune” “The Outer Limits” “Tremors”) that its appearance in “The Marshall” is as tired as nearly everything else in this story, which feels more like a collection of recycled parts rather than anything new.
Before volunteering for this would-be suicide mission, Mando makes Cobb promise to look after the Child. The Krayt dragon takes the bait and is blown to hell, as Mando miraculously flies out of its ruptured innards with his jetpack. The grateful Tuskens pick the prodigious quantities of meat off the tasty fresh carcass, vowing never to raid Mos Pelgo ever again. Mando peacefully takes Fett’s Mandalorian armor from his new friend Cobb and leaves.
The final shot is of the armor’s rightful owner, as an armor-less, hairless, robed Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) looks out over the Tatooine horizon…
“There’s something familiar about this place…”
“The Marshall,” written and directed by series producer Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) is a very familiar story we’ve already seen with this series. Mando goes somewhere in search of information, winds up saving a town from a local bad guy or giant beast, then leaves with ‘the Child’ safely in tow. The End. Yes, the spectacle and production values of this series are still amazing, but at the end of “The Marshall”’s 53 minute running time, it just feels like so many empty calories.
Timothy Olyphant’s Cobb Vanth (possibly a reference to late Star Wars’ illustrator Ron Cobb) was a little too on-the-nose with his US southern drawl. Yes, we know Star Wars’ Tatooine locale is supposed to be a setting for space western stories (as is “The Mandalorian” series itself), but this time it was too unsubtle in execution. I half-expected Vanth to sport jangling spurs and a ten gallon Stetson hat. Even under his armor, Vanth still dressed like the cliche of an American cowboy. Fan favorite ‘the Child’ (aka “Baby Yoda”) was little more than a cute cooing prop throughout this story, which never hinted as the extraordinary force power we saw him wield last year. This is an oversight that I assume will be amended in following episodes.
I appreciated the multiple references to the Star Wars movies (the hologram newscast of the second Death Star’s destruction at the end of “Return of the Jedi,” and the R5 unit, etc.), but references alone don’t necessarily make for compelling entertainment (see: “Star Trek: Lower Decks”), nor does an obvious retread of a too-familiar story. Season one’s “The Child” and “Sanctuary” both had Mando offering to rid locals of similar big bads… the only difference here was the scale.
That said, Tamuera Morrison’s much-lauded return as an armor-less Boba Fett genuinely piqued my interest. It promises real dramatic fireworks for the remainder of this season.
At the very least, “The Marshall” is a serviceable action-adventure story that kills 53 minutes well enough, even if its utter lack of originality makes for a weak season opener. To paraphrase Mando, this isn’t the way.
“The Mandalorian” Season 2 is available for streaming on DisneyPlus, as are most of the Star Wars movies and animated TV series. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are over 229,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, there’s no vaccine or even effective treatment for COVID-19 as of yet. Yes, some businesses are reopening, but the overall situation is far from safe. So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings as much as possible.
Wear a mask. It is the way…